Mortar and pestles are highly prized by chefs in Asia who value it over an electric blender or food processor because it bruises the herbs and releases oils rather than cutting and chopping them. You are also more in touch with your food and have more control over it.You really only need two if you are a serious cook, and one if you are a dabbler ? one for small quantities so you can grind salt and pepper at the last minute and a larger one that you don't move around, to mash and pulverise bunches of herbs, garlic and ginger and make sauces like salsa and curry paste.
Mortars come in lots of materials from stone to wood, and each has its own qualities ? see below. It's a very personal choice.Granite.
Available in asian shops throughout the country, the granite mortar and pestle was made famous by Jamie Oliver. (You can also get it in cook shops, but they are usually dearer). It is great for mashing herbs like basil to make pesto, mashing the avocado, tomato and chillies for authentic Mexican salsa, grinding spices, salt crystals and peppercorns and making mayonnaise.
It is roomy, durable, beautiful to look at and touch and will give a lifetime's use.Molcajete Tejolote (Mexican mortar and pestle).Made of volcanic rock, this mortar and pestle is the classic one for making and serving salsa and making Mole sauce, a mexican spcie and chocolate sauce. You have to be careful that bits of the rock don't come off into the salsa! The word molcajete meaning mortar is Aztec for sauce while the word Tejolote means pestle.Marble mortar and pestle.The advantage of a marble mortar is that it doesn't absorb smells and it's easy to clean.
It's not as tactile as some of the others.Ceramic mortar and pestles.These are lovely mortar and pestles, soft to touch but hard enough to grind effectively, and they often have the advantage of having a pouring spout. There is a good one made under the name of the late Elizabeth David.
Suribachi.The Suribachi is the Japanese mortar and pestle ? it is an earthenware bowl glazed on the outside. The pestle is wooden and called a surikogi.
It's used to pound sesame seeds along with ginger and garlic.Wood mortar and pestle.Wood looks beautiful but it is not as functional as you can't put in liquids - that means you can't finish a salsa or guacamole from start to finish without having to wait for the wood to dry out, otherwise you won't get as good a 'grip'.
If you have one, start grinding dry things first, then move to adding oils and wipe the bowl with a piece of paper towel.Use and care.To steady a heavy mortar put a teatowel under the mortar so it doesn't slip and scratch your counter top. Wash in soapy water, rinse and dry..
Anne Kennedy is an Irish food writer with over 20 years experience in publishing. She is currently Managing Editor of http://www.greatfood.ie, Ireland's largest recipe and food website. Over the years, she has amassed a fine collection of mortar and pestles and still manages to use most of them in her kitchen to test recipes and to cook great food (though a few have found their way into storage).
By: Anne Kennedy